The REDLINES Exhibit Reveals Impact of Racial Zoning


Posted On: February 22, 2020

The REDLINES Exhibit at the Birmingham Museum of Art revealed the significant impact of discriminatory zoning practices in the 30s and 40s in Birmingham, Alabama, that have had lasting effects even to today.

The exhibit consisted of multiple photographic series shedding light on the prejudices of “redlining” (or intentionally labeling) African-American neighborhoods and communities as “hazardous” and “undesirable” for investment. These discriminatory lines around “negro concentrated” areas stunted the economic growth of those areas over the years. Jared Downing covered the same subject in a 2015 al.com article writing, “The practice is called “redlining,” a term coined when cities across the country carved up their communities with proverbial or literal lines. Live on a redlined block, and you found it harder to find health insurance, apply for loans, even buy liquor. You might see more police on the streets, but less attention from the city when they needed repaving.” (Downing). While these prejudiced zoning practices were done away with the passing of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, the lasting effect of those prejudices can be seen today with many of those areas still in extreme economic disrepair. The artist, Celestia Morgan, says, “Though redlining officially came to an end in 1968 with the passage of the Fair Housing Act, Morgan’s work highlights the generational impact of this practice that continues to the present day.”


“The practice is called “redlining,” a term coined when cities across the country carved up their communities with proverbial or literal lines. Live on a redlined block, and you found it harder to find health insurance, apply for loans, even buy liquor. You might see more police on the streets, but less attention from the city when they needed repaving.”

Jared Downing: Old Birmingham map outlined ‘Negro Concentrations,’ then shunned them. al.com. Updated Jan 13, 2019; Posted Jun 30, 2015

One of the influential pieces of the exhibition was the actual blown-up maps of Birmingham drawn by city engineer A.J. Hawkins in 1929 and 1933. These kinds of maps are the subject to which the term “redlining” references. In an al.com article, Jared Downing presents insight he received from historian Dr. Wayne Flynt who described the origins of redlining as a form of “keeping brothels and saloons in check.” Though very quickly this “moral redlining” formed into what we see now looking back as systematic segregation.

“The May 1933 map on the bottom, prepared by Birmingham city engineer A.J. Hawkins, employs a very clear code from the ‘best’ to ‘undeveloped’ with ‘negro concentration’ ranking under ‘hazardous.’ Both these maps were official documents that demonstrate Birmingham’s systematic efforts to keep the city segregated.”

Celestia Morgan: MAPS. REDLINE. Birmingham. Birmingham Museum of Art. 5 October 2019 – 23 February 2020

These redlines did not only segregate, but they also separated black communities. In Morgan’s exhibit, she discusses the economic moves the city made that reinforced the impact of redlining. Specifically, the construction of Interstate I-20/59 emphasized the red lines drawn in the old maps. The interstate separated black communities even further from each other and downtown.

“Built in 1973, this stretch of Interstates 20 and 59 intentionally bisected neighborhoods that are primarily composed of Black residents and prevented any foot traffic or natural connection between those areas and downtown Birmingham.”

Celestia Morgan: INTERSTATE. REDLINE. Birmingham. Birmingham Museum of Art. 5 October 2019 – 23 February 2020

Perhaps the most notable series of the exhibit was Morgan’s “SKY MAP SERIES” which imposed striking outlines of Birmingham neighborhoods against cloudy blue skies. The implications in the series are based on the idiom, “The sky’s the limit.” Morgan said, “Though the sky is a familiar sight, combined with the silhouettes of the neighborhoods affected by racial discrimination, it takes on a greater significance.” And a “greater significance” it has surely made.

“Though the sky is a familiar sight, combined with the silhouettes of the neighborhoods affected by racial discrimination, it takes on a greater significance.”

Titusville (Left) , SKY MAP SERIES description (Right)
Celestia Morgan : REDLINE : Birmingham Museum of Art

One of the areas in Birmingham affected by this redlining is Titusville. In fact, the outline of Titusville against a blue sky can be seen in the picture above and in the museum’s article for the exhibit.

The North Titusville neighborhood is an area within the silhouetted boundaries pictured above in the piece Titusville. It is also an area that we at Navigate have committed to. Navigate CEO Lisa McCarroll said, “We want to do good. And in saying, ‘We want to do good.’ … the Navigate team started to brainstorm. ‘Well what does that mean?’ and ‘How does that look?’ and ‘What can we do as a company that is really a positive contribution to whatever community we’re in?’ And in doing that, … we came to North Titusville. And we didn’t just come up with some random plan. In starting our work, we tried to take our information from what the community was saying, and what they wanted, and what they needed.” Navigate is working to turn the tide toward prosperity and vibrancy for the residents of North Titusville. We are doing this by actively engaging in the community, investing in housing affordability efforts, gathering a vibrant oral history, and developing plans to provide quality affordable housing.

“We want to do good. And in saying, ‘We want to do good.’ … the Navigate team started to brainstorm. ‘Well what does that mean?’ and ‘How does that look?’ and ‘What can we do as a company that is really a positive contribution to whatever community we’re in?’ And in doing that, … we came to North Titusville. And we didn’t just come up with some random plan. In starting our work, we tried to take our information from what the community was saying, and what they wanted, and what they needed.”

Lisa McCarroll, CEO of Navigate Affordable Housing Partners

Snippets from REDLINE exhibit

“Though redlining officially came to an end in 1968 with the passage of the Fair Housing Act, Morgan’s work highlights the generational impact of this practice that continues to the present day.”

Celestia Morgan: REDLINE. Birmingham. Birmingham Museum of Art. 5 October 2019 – 23 February 2020



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